Fresh Shwaas of air

Sandeep Sawant's intention is to make a film that will touch people's hearts. -- Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.

Sandeep Sawant's intention is to make a film that will touch people's hearts. -- Photo: Bhagya Prakash K.  

"CIGARETTE KE saath nahin," Sandeep Sawant says, as an eager photographer points a camera at him, "Maa daantegi!" I have reached Suchitra Film Society, in Banashankari, on an early Sunday morning to interview Sandeep Sawant, director of Shwaas, India's entry to the Oscars this year. The man I shake hands with, however, is unassuming in his off-white cotton shirt and dark blue denim pants. As we sit down to speak, he offers mildly: "I'm not used to talking much."

Sandeep was in Bangalore over the weekend to be panelist at a discussion organised as part of the Chitrabharathi-2005 Festival of Indian Panorama Films. He explained his reason for choosing filmmaking as a vehicle of choice for expression. "I like paintings, but I can't paint. I like music, but I can't sing or play an instrument. I can't write good poetry either. But, even if I can't express things myself, I can capture them with a camera. So, I can express what I feel only through the medium of film."

As the discussion wore on, it was soon obvious that Sandeep and Shwaas are the poster children for the day, irrespective of the fact that the Marathi film did not even secure a nomination under the Best Foreign Language Film category. But the Oscar experience was not completely useless.

Sandeep explains: "The competition was very tough; out of the 49 entries, 10 to 12 films were top contenders." Due to the complete absence of knowledge within local film circles about marketing a regional language film internationally, everything had to be learnt from scratch, says Sandeep. At every screening in the US, he had to constantly reiterate that Shwaas was a regional language film not made in Bollywood. The film managed to pull off approximately 50 screenings in the US including 25 community screenings, one week in a regular commercial theatre, and the coveted closing spot of the New York South Asian Film Festival.

The minute I use the words "parallel cinema", the half-brash, teenaged smile disappears from the director's face. He explains the reason why these labels are not applicable, "As far as films are concerned, there is no distribution mechanism. So, the effort was to reach the common man." His initial motive was to make a Marathi film not just for Maharashtra; the scope would have to be national and international; aimed at improving the Marathi film industry.

Fresh Shwaas of air

He also stresses the fact that the distribution plan for Shwaas was in place even before production began. There was always a strategy even without the national award and the Oscar entry. In the initial stages, the film was taken to as many villages as the team could manage; marriage halls, school auditoriums and makeshift venues were all used for screening. All this despite the fact that the film has no songs, no heroes, heroines or recognisable stars; in Sandeep's own words, the film had, "... no jhatkas."

What the film did have was some extraordinary acting, especially from Ashwin Chitale, the young actor playing the pivotal character of Parsha, the grandson, in the movie. Opinion seems to be undivided about the young boy's performance; at the discussion, one eager audience member asked Sandeep the secret to this performance. Sandeep's answer was simple. "The most important thing was that before the shooting ever began, he was my best friend. I never tried to convince him to do something. During shooting, I made it clear that everything was false, we were only trying to make it look real." Sandeep only pointed him in approximately the right direction and this made the budding actor free and natural with no hint of any pressure.

I draw a blank when I ask about the future; a laughing Sandeep tells me that he hasn't yet recovered from this film to have the time or the energy to think about the next one. The one thing he is sure about is that he wants to work on a Marathi film and a Hindi film after Shwaas. Avoiding the commercial versus parallel debate, he says the objective will remain the same, to make a film that will touch people's hearts.

Our conversation comes to a hasty close as Sandeep has to satiate a hundred other inquiries; other reporters, hurried photographers, audience members eager to ask him yet another question about some minute detail in his film, and the organisers eager to steer him towards lunch. I managed to sneak in a query about his opinion of Bangalore. The first-time visitor seemed mildly impressed, "I haven't seen much — a few malls, and this discussion. What I like though is the enthusiasm. Even though there were so few people in the discussion, none of them hesitated to get loud and passionate about their viewpoint. That was pleasant." When one sees Shwaas, it is difficult to understand how anyone's response can be anything but loud and passionate; a breath of fresh air indeed.


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